A Simple Favor (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): A witty suburban comic thriller

“A Simple Favor” is a witty suburban comic thriller gliding with enough charm and spirit to engage and entertain you. While it will probably not surprise you much if you are familiar with its genre clichés and conventions, the movie constantly provides enjoyable moments to be savored, and, in my inconsequential opinion, that is more than enough for compensating for its few notable flaws including its rather overlong running time.

In the beginning, we are introduced to Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick), a single suburban mother who is also your typical overachiever. She is always ready to volunteer whenever her kid’s elementary school class needs help and support from kids’ parents, and she has also run a little online blog site, where she usually gives her followers useful tips on domestic matters including cooking and making accessories for kids.

One day, Stephanie happens to come across Emily (Blake Lively), the mother of a kid who has been her son’s close friend. Right from their first encounter in front of the elementary school building, Emily impresses Stephanie and other parents a lot with her cool confidence and chic business suit, and Stephanie soon finds herself befriending Emily after Emily suggests that they should go to her house for spending some time together as two mothers. While drinking gin martini along with Emily in her posh modern house, Stephanie becomes more fascinated with Emily, and she is certainly delighted as Emily comes to lean and depend more on her as days go by.

However, it seems there is something Emily is hiding behind her back. While she clearly loves her little son, her relationship with her writer husband Sean (Henry Golding) feels a bit strained even though they frankly admit the imperfect sides of their married life in front of Stephanie, and she is also quite sensitive about being photographed as shown from one brief scene.

Stephanie remains oblivious to these suspicious aspects of her new friend, but then something really serious happens. When Emily asks Stephanie to take care of her son for a few days, Stephanie initially does not suspect anything, but she is baffled as she cannot reach to Emily later, and Emily’s husband, who happens to be absent due to his family matter in London, does not know anything about where Emily is. They immediately call the police, and Stephanie subsequently visits a fashion design company where Emily works, but she does not get any useful information there at all – except a small piece of clue she manages to find in Emily’s office.

From this point, I will not dare to tell you more about the plot, but I can tell you instead how the adapted screenplay by Jessica Sharzer, which is based on the novel of the same name by Darcey Bell, deftly balances itself between comedy and thriller. While there are a number of small humorous moments which keep the movie on its lightweight mode, the movie eventually shifts itself on a little darker mode as Stephanie becomes determined to delve more into her friend’s mysterious missing, and I particularly like a hilariously morbid scene where Stephanie visits a rather disturbed New York City artist who once knew Stephanie’s vanished friend some time ago.

Around its third act, the movie loses a bit of its narrative momentum, but director Paul Feig, who has delighted us with several funny comedy films such as “Bridemaids” (2011) and “Spy” (2015), maintains well the bouncy comic spirit of his film, and Anna Kendrick, who has always been interesting to watch thanks to her undeniably plucky screen presence, ably carries the film via her engaging performance. While imbuing her character with some gravitas as required, Kendrick effortlessly handles small and big comic moments throughout the film, and I am still amused by an absurd scene where her character tries one of Emily’s dresses and then finds herself in a very awkward moment.

In case of Blake Lively, she shows an unexpected side of her acting talent here as she previously did in “The Shallows” (2016). With all those fancy business suits, Lively immediately draws our attention, and she and Kendrick click well together during their key scenes including the one where Stephanie comes to reveal her deep personal secret to Emily.

Compared to Kendrick and Lively, the rest of the main cast members do not have many things to do except filling their thankless supporting roles as much as they can. While Henry Golding, who recent drew our attention for his appearance in “Crazy Rich Asians” (2018), is suitably cast in his functional role, Andrew Rannells, who has mainly been known for his Tony-nominated performance in Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon”, brings humor and personality to his stereotype character, and Jean Smart, Linda Cardellini, and Rupert Friend leave some impression during their respective single scenes.

Although it is relatively less uproarious compared to “Bridemaids” and “Spy”, “A Small Favor” is still funny and entertaining nonetheless, and I had a fairly fun time when I watched it at a local theater during this early Saturday morning. It could be more effective in a shorter running time, but I was amused enough during my viewing at least, and it is certainly one of better comedy films I saw during this year.

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